If you are in a blended family with stepparents, stepchildren or step-anything-elses, you will likely have unique estate planning needs. Likewise, if you are on your second (or third or fourth or eleventh) marriage, listen up!
Estate Planning for Blended Families 1. On Your Second Marriage? Figuring Out Legal Guardianship 2. Taking Care of the Kids Financially in a Blended Family 3. Dividing Belongings Among a Blended Family Don’t Overlook the Emotional Burden (and Relief!)
Estate Planning for Blended Families
Writing a Will is not exactly the most fun, but it is important. This is particularly true for blended families.
If you have children from a previous marriage and another child with your current spouse, you should consider the complications that may occur later. Although everyone is on good terms now, anything can happen. Theoretically, your spouse can ignore, hence disinherit your biological kids from your previous marriage. You may want to take steps to prevent that from happening.
Devising a robust estate plan helps to ensure your wishes are carried out and that all parties get their fair share. While every blended family has its own unique circumstances, there are three main areas to think about:
Passing on assets to minor children
Dividing your estate among family members
We will dive into each.
1. On Your Second Marriage? Figuring Out Legal Guardianship
If you pass away without a Will, your child’s other parent will typically get full custody. However, the general main exception is if the surviving biological parent had extremely limited visitation rights (think supervised visits or only once-a-month visits). In that case, the stepparent may be more likely to gain guardianship of the child.
If you and your previous partner are estranged or you want your child to remain with your current spouse, you will need to make that clear in your Will. Even so, this may not solve everything. A parent can appoint their spouse as guardian, but the estranged parent will have to consent to the appointment. Otherwise, the surviving stepparent will likely have to initiate proceedings after the custodial parent has passed.
Guardianship is extremely country or state-specific, it will be wise to consult a professional from your country / state for the specifics.
2. Taking Care of the Kids Financially in a Blended Family
Leaving your estate to your children adds another layer of complexity. It is important to think about who you have designated for your payable on death accounts, but that is often not enough.
A minor child cannot inherit assets outright, so generally there needs to be an appointed trustee for the funds. The trustee is a person whose responsibility is to act as the legal owner of the assets. They control these assets on behalf of a Will beneficiary who is a minor (since a child is not allowed to be at the helm). This trustee is supposed to maintain and manage the money in a responsible way until the child reaches adulthood or whatever age the Will specifies.
In blended families it can be tricky to agree on a trustee but no matter who it is, the trustee needs to be clearly designated in your Will.
3. Dividing Belongings Among a Blended Family
When it comes to second marriages with stepchildren, you need to make sure that the language in your estate planning is rock solid. Otherwise, it could lead to conflict among your heirs.
Always be specific in naming each child so that there are no mix-ups as to who is entitled to which portion, or nothing of your estate. That way, there is less of a chance of anyone contesting your Will.
This is important because if the language of the Will is called into question, the entire document can be thrown out. Then you would be assumed as dying intestate (passing on without a Will).
In that case, most countries / states grant most of the estate to your surviving spouse. The remaining amount will be split amongst children, which can include biological or stepchildren.
This can lead to unintended consequences, such as your estate going to stepchildren (it may not be your wish). To make it even more complicated, let’s say your spouse were to pass away shortly after you, their share would generally go to their biological children. It means that your children from a previous union could get left out.
Want to add to the confusion? If you and your partner are not married but live in a common law country / state, the rules for estate planning may be different.
All this to say: the language in your Will needs to clearly define how you want your estate to be divided.
Don’t Overlook the Emotional Burden (and Relief!)
Estate planning can be very emotional, especially in a blended family. This may not be a pleasant task, but remind yourself that you are doing it for your spouse and children.
Writing your Will is the very first step, and it’s an important one. But that’s not enough. In the digital age, the next step is to store your Will online. Otherwise, what happens if your person of confidence is not able to find your Will in a timely manner? liteWill is the only Will registration platform that is available globally and that provides the option to store your Will online. ‘A Will that is not online is like a Will that does not exist’.
This portion of the website is for information only. The statements and opinions are the expression of their author, not of liteWill, and have not been evaluated for accuracy, completeness or changes in the law. Information contained in this article is not a substitute for tax or legal advice.
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